Cornelius Van Hemert Engert was born December 31, 1887 in Vienna, Austria, the son of John Cornelius and Mary Babbitt Engert, both Dutch. When Engert was a child the family moved to Ferndale, California, where Engert attended high school and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen. He attended the University of California at Berkeley where he recieved a B.Litt. in 1909 and an M.Litt in 1910 and attended the Law School there from 1908 to 1911. He was a teaching fellow at the University from 1909 to 1911 and a Le Conte Memorial Fellow at Harvard University from 1911 to 1912.
In March 1912, Engert was appointed as a student interpreter for the American Diplomatic Corps in Turkey, which began a string of successively responsible positions for the U.S. Department of State in Turkey. These positions included Interpreter to the American Consulate General at Constantinople, July 1914; in charge of agency at the Dardanelles, November to December 1914; Vice-Consul at Constantinople, February 1915; Vice Consul and Interpreter at Baghdad, August 1915; on detail at Constantinople, September 1915 to December 1916; and detail in Syria and Palestine, December 1916 to April 1917. Engert was then attached to Viscount Ishii's Mission to the United States from Japan in San Francisco. Engert then served as Assistant to and Secretary to the American Legation at the Hague from August 1917 to September 1919. During his service in Turkey in 1917, he was interned by the Turkish government upon the rupture of diplomatic relations with the United States. Engert served as Second Secretary to the Legation in Teheran, Iran rom 1920 to 1922 and was the first American diplomatic officer to visit Kabul Afghanistan in 1922. Engert then served a term at the State Department in Washington, D.C. from October 1922 to September 1923. During this time, Engert worked a great deal securing oil concessions from the Iranian government for American oil companies.
In September 1923, Engert began eight years of service in Latin American countries, beginning with Cuba, where he served as First Secretary until February 1925. Engert then served as First Secretary in San Salvador, where he negotiated the first Treaty of Friendship between the U.S. and El Salvador. He then served in Santiago, Chile from May 1926 to November 1927, and in Caracas, Venezuela from December 1927 to December 1929. Engert then served as First Secretary to the American Embassy in Peiping (Beijing), China from June 1930 to June 1933. After serving in Cairo, Egypt from June 1933 to July 1935, Engert was named Consul General and Resident Minister at the American Legation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he encountered rioting at the Consulate during the Italian invasion. In January 1937, Engert was named Consul for the legations in Teheran and Kabul, and in August 1940 he was posted as Consul General in Beirut and Damascus where he was serving during the invasion of the forces of France Libre. In 1942, Engert became the first American Minister to reside in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he served until 1945. On leaving Kabul, his final post, Engert travelled to Moscow overland, visiting Nepal, Bokhara and Samarkand. In 1946 Engert became Assistant and Acting Diplomatic Advisor to the UNRRA, from 1946 to 1947, and was a representative of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development for the Middle East, India and Pakistan rom 1948 to 1951.
Along with Dorothy Thomspon, Engert was a founder and member of the Board of Directors of the American Friends of the Middle East, Inc. in 1951. In 1954, he was awarded a lectureship in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and became an Honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Engert was also a fellow of the American Geographical Society and the Royal Geographical Society, as well as an active member of the English Speaking Union, of which he was Washington Bureau from 1951 to 1958.
On December 16, 1922, Engert married Sara Cunningham and they had two children, Roderick Morrison and Sheila Moffat Engert. Engert died in 1985.